Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Behind the Books: Shopping for Text Structure

Let’s face it. Convincing young writers that their nonfiction writing can benefit from experimenting with different text structures isn’t easy. The last thing kids want to do is revise a piece of writing four or five times, each time using a different text structure.

And who can blame them? I’m not crazy about it either. But unlike young writers, I have a powerful tool that spurs me on—experience. I know that trying on different structures is worth the time and effort. I know from experience that it works.

Since gaining that experience takes time and patience and persistence, I’ve been looking for a way to convince students to keep on trying. Here's an analogy that I think could help. What if we encouraged students to go shopping for structure?

When we’re searching for a pair of pants, we usually know what purpose we want it to serve. It might be for playing sports or relaxing around the house or going to a fancy party? With this purpose in mind, we look at many different pairs of pants.

We can eliminate some pretty quickly. Maybe they don’t serve our purpose. Maybe they’re the wrong size or a color we don’t like or made of a material that’s too scratchy. But at a certain point, we have to try on a few pairs of pants to see how they fit. We might not like spending time in the store’s cramped dressing room, but we accept that it’s a necessary part of the process.

The same is true for selecting a nonfiction text structure. If we think deeply about our purpose for writing (which, in my opinion, is not the same as what Common Core calls “author purpose) as part of the pre-writing process, if we identify our audience and think about what we’re excited to share with them and why we want to share it, we can eliminate some text structures pretty quickly. For example, it might be clear that a sequence structure won’t work because there’s no time element or natural order involved in our central nugget, our vital idea. Maybe there’s no problem, and therefore no solution.

But like shopping for a pair of pants, at a certain point, a nonfiction writer probably has to try on a couple of different text structures to see which one is the best fit. We might not like physically writing out multiple drafts, but we need to accept that it’s a necessary part of the process.

What do you think? Could this analogy work?


  1. I love this analogy, Melissa! I think it's the perfect way to describe the writing process in general in a way that's very easy to grasp. Maybe it could even be extended into finding the right outfit for the occasion. Something for a wedding vs. something for hiking, swimming--the outfit in general could for the perceived audience of attendees :)

  2. This is a very good point. I am stumped right now on how best to write a PB story where 4 very independent thinking characters eventually have to acknowledge that they need each other. Checking out your No Monkey's No Chocolate again, as I have more information for the back matter, and looking for the best ways to get state it and where to put it.

  3. Hmm, four characters sounds pretty ambitious for a picture book. Perhaps you should try writing a longer book.